Life in Oaxaca and the Many Layers of Travel

by Sarah Menkedick Oct 13, 2009

Photo: Sarah

Abroad Editor Sarah Menkedick on the popsicle man, beers by the lake, and the many layers of travel.
Paletas Popeye

Everyday sometime between three and four (imprecision being an ongoing theme of life in Mexico) the Popeye’s Popsicle man comes up our street. We listen to his cry get closer and closer. The same stress is always on the same syllables – pal-let-ahhhs pop-ay-eeeeee, pa-let-ahhhhs pop-ay-eeee, like a birdsong.

We wait, shifting eagerly in our chairs, wondering how this brown, brown old man can sound this cry for hours every afternoon. Once you actually talk to him, his voice is surprisingly normal, no sign that he’s been digging into the depths of his vocal chords for so many afternoons over the years.

“Guera!” he says, “cómo está la guerita?”

“Bien!” I reply, and we talk about the dog, how big she is, about the heat, how strong it is, about whether I want una de coco and una de nuez, which I always do.

He opens the door on the small metal cart, reaches in, and produces two paletas and a few wisps of cool fog from inside the popsicle den. I hand him my peso coins and he nods, slips them in his pocket.

“Que te vaya bien,” says the popsicle man.

“Igualmente,” I respond.

Riding in the Back of Trucks

Last weekend we went to a lake outside of Oaxaca City. Jorge and I rode with Stella the dog in the back of a friend’s truck. Stella was in olfactory paradise and Jorge and I were just plain happy.

Riding in the back of a truck in Latin America is, for me, travel. That is it. Punto y ya. There is no similar traveling sensation. I get this rush and this nostalgia and this sense of contentment and I think, let’s go, I don’t care, just keep going to Ushuaia and don’t stop.

But, we stopped, and we picnicked and swam and then it started pouring rain. So we headed into a little restaurant on the side of the lake with big windows, ordered beers and peanuts, and watched the rain pour down over the pines on the mountains and into the lake.

I thought about how many layers there are to traveling. I live in Oaxaca, but it is so familiar now that it’s hard to feel the same jolt of awareness and vivid sense of place one does in traveling. Yet it still feels like travel, in subtler ways.

The Paletas Popeye man, for example, is a layer of traveling, a traveling-in-the-everyday. The walk I take with the dog every evening is a layer of traveling, perhaps the most satisfying part, where the familiar meets the foreign, allowing for two simultaneous types of appreciation – that of the outsider, and that of someone who belongs.

The lakeside beer in the rain is yet another layer, the thrill of traveling and of being outside of something. Obligation? Routine? Daily life? Givens? As much as I dread the connotations of the word, this layer of travel has overtones of escape. Escape in the best sense – escape from monotony or drudgery or accepted notions or fixed ways of seeing and being.

So many layers. Maybe this happens once travel becomes, inadvertently or purposefully, the paradigm by which you live your life.

And then we came back to the city, the air chilly and the sky already clearing for one of those twilights so blue it hurts. Back to another layer of travel.

This is what I’ve been up to in Oaxaca as of late.

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